tom thinks

date 2001-03-18:15:02
Writing Being eclectic in my reading is educational in unexpected ways.

I read the Richard Sharpe books long ago, and recently on impulse picked up the latest, Sharpe's Trafalgar. I don't recall any of the books as being especially well-written, although Waterloo stands well above the rest. But I found myself thinking, "This is a textbook example of the kind of writing I want to avoid."

Cornwell tells the story of the battle itself in long unbroken blocks of entirely unpoetic narrative. The viewpoint jumps around in a way that doesn't serve the purpose of showing us the confusion and fog of war, but rather the opposite--to let the author make some clarifying point. The description is blunt and technical, evoking nothing. For something as nominally exciting as one of the greatest naval engagements in history, the whole thing is astonishingly flat.

I've been thinking a lot about style lately, as I've developed notes for various projects, and this was such a lovely counter-example to everything I value about style that it deserves special attention. Contrast objects are often the most valuable educational resource available, and while I've read a great deal of both bad and good writing, this example came up at just the right time for me to recognize what it is I want to avoid, and reinforce what I have to do to avoid it.
Creatures The deer have come south for Spring. I saw a couple along the road yesterday while walking home from town, and there are a couple in the back yard right now, browsing on the newly-exposed grass. It's still bloody cold, though the snow is finally melting and the equinox may see a change in season that isn't entirely theoretical.
Reading Churchill's view of the War Between the States is pretty conventional, although he credited this study with convincing him that the Americans would in time come to Britain's aid in World War II.

He passes over the appalling casualty figures with virtually no comment--like the English Civil War, this war was spectacularly bloody if for no other reason than the ease with which the enemies could come at each other. And the Americans had the added benefit of fighting with relatively modern weapons.

It got me thinking today, though, that the thing that's missing from the battlefield is modern artillery. This is what separates modern warfare from everything that comes before it, and had it been available the failure of the Union to come at Richmond would have mattered much less, because it would have been reduced by artillery fire from well behind the Union lines. Had the rebellion waited another few decades, the war would have had a very different character.

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